President Trump’s Border Closure Threat
KPBS Roundtable / April 5, 2019
President Trump visits the border amid his latest closure threat, complaints about privately-run military housing at Camp Pendleton, and the new suicide-prevention barrier on the Coronado bridge.
PANEL: Steve Walsh, reporter, KPBS News; Lori Weisberg, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune; John Wilkens, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Speaker 1: 00:00 Okay.
Speaker 2: 00:01 As president Trump visits the border, he's backing off his threat to close it and cross border businesses breathe a sigh of relief, uh, skin crawling story from a mom. At Camp Pendleton, she woke up to find mice running rampant through her home. How was, she says the military was slow to help and the Coronado bridge has a new suicide barrier, but experts are still looking for a longterm solution. I'm mark Sauer. The KPBS roundtables starts now. Welcome to our discussion of the week stop stories. I'm mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS round table today. Lori Weisberger covers marketing and tourism for the San Diego Union Tribune reporter John Wilkins, also of the Union Tribune and KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh. Well, Donald Trump said this week, he's not bluffing. He's going to close the borders, shut it down. And if that wrecks the economy tough, unless Mexico stops the flow north of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants and drugs immediately, uh, wait. Oh, never mind.
Speaker 3: 01:13 The last three days, it hasn't happened since I said we're closing the border. The only thing, frankly better, but less drastic than closing the water is to tear the cars coming in. And I will do it just like you, you know, I will do it. I don't play games, I'll do it. So we're doing it to stop people. We're going to give them a one year warning. And if the drugs don't stop or largely stop, we're going to put tariffs on Mexico and products in particular cars. The whole ball game is cars. It's the big ball game with many countries, it's cars. And if that doesn't stop the drugs, we closed the border.
Speaker 1: 01:55 Okay.
Speaker 2: 01:55 All right. Trump doesn't play games. That's good to know. Business leaders and politicians in both parties, Warren's shutting the border would be disastrous. And Trump's flip flopping still has plenty of people nervous. That begs the question, what would happen if the border were shut down? And Lori, you wrote this week, the action goes far beyond whackamole in limes for Margarita's. Right. It's a big deal.
Speaker 4: 02:16 That's right. That's right. And, and just, I wrote about this, you know, last November when it happened. And then again this time and as I was writing the story, sort of wondering is it going to happen? There were sit Susie really going to back away. And of course he did. But yes, it's a, it's, it's big in California. That cross border trade at the San Diego border is about $75 billion in imports and exports with exports to California outweighing the imports. But it's, it's huge business. I mean everything from the produce, I mean about a third of the produce in our supermarkets. And where are we dying is from if Mexico grown. And then of course the Biggie is, is the automobiles, the parts for this automobiles, medical devices, furniture. Um, it's just lot of goods of course. That's why we have Nafta and hopefully the, uh, the maybe the successor to Nafta.
Speaker 2: 03:05 And then we're going to talk a little bit more about that in a minute. And a, you mentioned the impact here originally us chambers, Congress reports about 1.7 billion in goods and service. The service is flows across the entire 2000 mile border daily, daily. And they also say that about a half million legal worker, students, shoppers, tourist crossed the border daily too as well. So, uh, that commercial traffic here crossing, it's a lot of trucks coming through, right?
Speaker 4: 03:30 Yeah. I bought a about uh, all time. Mesa is worth mostly the track though. Truck traffic goes, it's about a million a year. Um, and then you mentioned the, uh, that just the individual is crossing the border by either pedestrians or car about, they say about a third of those crossing is for jobs on the side of the border because they're living in Tijuana and coming across here for everything from hospital tower, the jobs to marine terminal jobs too to whenever. So it's, it, it has such a far reaching effect when you do shut down the border.
Speaker 2: 03:59 Young woman in the newsroom here KPBS sitting next to me and listened to you one and comes across every day. And we discussed that, uh, you mentioned a moment ago, the border was shut down a few hours in November. Even just that short period had its impact.
Speaker 4: 04:11 Yep. Five point $3 million impact on the sang you seen drove businesses on the side of the border, about 75% just closed for business. It was such a, a big an impact and you know, it's, it's even, it's not even when it closes. I mean of course that's a big impact but just the idea of that threat hanging over it has sort of a lingering effect for a few days. Cause you didn't, you didn't know would, would that happen again? Right.
Speaker 2: 04:35 And as you say a, you're writing the story and you're wondering is he going to flip flop again on this? We had um, health care, the, he was going to introduce healthcare and replace Obamacare is they launched the, the, the battle on that lawsuit this week and he flipped flopped on as good as in southern California today. Can flip flops are a little more common around here. Steve, I'm a determined to you. Trump's inspecting the border fencing at Calexico crossing today. You have it out there for past reports. What's the situation over there?
Speaker 5: 05:02 I was out there about one year ago this month when the vice president was out there to inspect this section of wall. This is a very popular section of the wall. Apparently this was authorized under the Obama administration, paid for under the Trump administration. It's about an 18 mile stretch where they're replacing an existing border fence out there. It just, we'll talk about security in a minute. Interestingly enough, when we were there, they had taken down several sections of wall and it was just simply opened up. There was no nobody, there were no, uh, there's no military out there. There was no concertina wire. You could just simply see traffic. Um, but now he's out there today. Um, apparently putting a plaque, the plaque and a plaque.
Speaker 2: 05:43 All right. I wanted to shift back to a, the threat to shut the border. It came this week as is a San Diego business leaders. Elected leaders were down for the annual meeting with their counterparts in Mexico City and I interviewed a one participant follow villa vice presidents and vice president, or I should say, of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Let's hear what she had to say on Trump shutting the border.
Speaker 4: 06:07 You know, it's hard to take it seriously because, you know, for those of us who live on the border, we don't see that as a viable option. It's pretty ridiculous. But we've learned that we, we can't just brush off any threats under this administration. We have to take it seriously.
Speaker 2: 06:26 And Laurie, I wanted to get to that meeting, the, you know, this, this whole threat of shutting the border and all the focus was in Washington, which unfortunately it took away from this big meeting, especially for the regional leaders here in San Diego. They were talking about, Paula told me they were talking about three main agenda items among all the things, a new border crossing, ironically enough, the chronic across borders, sewage problem. We've talked about it, about that on round table and improvements to Nafta Treaty, which I guess, and I was in trouble in Congress. Um, you know, it's a shame this was kind of overshadowed by this time.
Speaker 4: 06:58 Yeah. When I talked to her kind of mid visit and I was catching her in between speakers and I said, you know, are, is this the, is this the talk of you of your summit? And she said, yes. It seems like the undertone was in everything that they were doing, whether it was formal presentations by the speaker's talking to the other people there or when they talked to the government, some she acknowledged some of the government people tried to sugar coat it in Mexico and not considered, but others were more honest and they weren't truly concerned. So yes, um, I'm sure they got a lot done, but I mean, yes, it overshadowed the whole visit. Jean. She did say that.
Speaker 2: 07:32 Yeah, kind of all the news that we heard about this week. And, uh, you heard a report on Npr just this morning, Carrie Kahn or NPR correspondent down in, uh, in Mexico City and they asked her, you know, what about the president there and reacting to that bite we heard earlier at the top. And apparently he's just not taking the bait. And he's saying, look, we need to work with the United States and have cross border business and commerce and relations. And I think that's the whole San Diego delegations point of view too.
Speaker 4: 07:58 Right? Right. I mean they, they, they tried, I mean I don't, obviously I don't think it got into anything inflammatory and they tried to stay on point, the Chamber of Commerce,
Speaker 6: 08:08 alternate universes. Sometimes you have the people on this coast in this region who tried to work together and make this happen on a day to day basis. And then over on the east coast she had these, you know, these sort of inflammatory statements about shutting down the border. It's like either neither universe really talks to each other and they each sort of, especially the one here has to kind of proceed as if this isn't really going to happen. Otherwise things will just slow down. So,
Speaker 2: 08:30 right. I mean even the threat of it has an impact. It's all of that kind of,
Speaker 5: 08:33 this sort of damaging, he's the president's leverage is starting to slip away. The closer we get to an election. If it really does have this kind of an economic impact, are you really going to wait one more year and do some of these things when you're, you know, you're up for election. It seems like, um, the window to do this as quickly slipping away.
Speaker 4: 08:54 Think he's, you know, when he talked
Speaker 5: 08:56 about, boy, if they don't, if they don't solve things in a year, I'm going to get tough. And, and it sounds scary about cause it's about autos, but I think he's showing his base and I'm, Hey, look, I, I may sound like I'm backing away, but I'm still getting tough and how far off am I am going to, you know, crack down on these auto terrace, which would be obviously a huge impact we sent in our own story that you close the border and within terrorist society, um, within days. Well, it could have a huge impact on the Midwest. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Speaker 2: 09:24 All right. Uh, Steve, long as you have the floor. I did want to turn to you about the, you wrote about the end of the deployment of troops and they were stringing that Concertina wire, which we've talked about. Of course. Uh, what do you find that the border here now at the end of that process?
Speaker 5: 09:36 So a portion of the border mission, and we've had troops along the border since just before the midterm elections in October. Part of that mission was set to a wrapped up at the end of March. They, uh, they strung about 180 miles, um, concertina wire, about 46 miles of that in California. Uh, we actually took kind of a tour along the border, um, and kind of see like what was the outcome here? And, um, we found certain spots, no wire at all, certain spots where you're seeing wire from the top of the wall to the bottom. I noticed even reports coming out of Calexico brand new wall and they've put concertina wire on that. And that particular section, the stuff that is near the ocean, the stuff that a president Trump had tweeted out, uh, showing that they had covered the wall after on television. They saw some migrants climbing up on there.
Speaker 5: 10:25 Um, that is starting to show some real signs of uh, of wear and tear. Uh, some of it is balled up at the base of the wall. There was a secondary fence on the beach and that's all, most of the a tangle of wire. We were actually able to talk to the Marines who were laying concertina wire at Otay Mesa back in November. Went back there to see how it looks part of the wall. Really just, you know, strung with concertina wire. Um, but then other portions of it, nothing at all. We've been reaching out to the border patrol and homeland security. There's, they have not really responded as to what the plan was when you talked to Department of Defense. They say we responded to their request and we put the wire where they wanted it and it's now their job to maintain it and protect it or tell us to come back or get it back from most people stealing a doughnut. Okay. Also are clear that that's also the responsible responsibility of the border patrol. We won't be sending the marines down there.
Speaker 2: 11:16 All right. Plenty more to talk about this. This will be our last bite at this apple. We are going to move on now. Well, the idea as it is when the government turns to the private sector was to save money, but complaints are pouring in from military families in San Diego and across the nation about substandard living conditions and private military housing. And Steve, uh, your story this week, a feature to family of a marine. He was away on deployment. What happened in her home and Camp Pendleton run by Lincoln military housing?
Speaker 5: 11:43 Well, we, uh, we went up there last week to talk to Leslie Tomlin son and, uh, who has four kids and her husband is a marine and she told us a story of between two 17 they were in military housing up there. She remembers waking up in the middle of the night to her daughter crying and then seeing a mouse opening up the, uh, the, uh, uh, turning on the hallway light and my scattered everywhere. Uh, they, they had to move out for a little bit. They came back and then it, they, what happened was what she says is basically almost a year long journey from March, almost October before they finally got them another house, uh, where they tried to get a Lincoln housing to clean up. They tried it. My still kept coming in. We saw pictures of, of, of different mice a that she had taken out. She documented this story pretty thoroughly, uh, from that, that time. Eventually she did get a new house, but it took a long time.
Speaker 2: 12:38 All right. We're going to get some more details on that, but we have a bite from it. From your story on that. Let's hear from, uh, from the homeowner.
Speaker 7: 12:46 I woke up to grab my phone for the flashlight and there I turned the flashlight on and there was a mouse crawling over my, my pillow. Um, and I, I jumped up and I walked over to the hallway and I turned that flipped the switch on or the hallway and there was tons of mice just running down my hallway. You could see them coming out of the rooms just like scampering down the halls and like, I was just so freaked out. I grabbed the kids. We, uh, we like gathered our stuff. Like I gathered whatever I could real quick and we just took off.
Speaker 2: 13:29 I should correct myself. She's a tenant, not a, not a homeowner. I couldn't they, you said they eventually got a house? It took him a year, couldn't they have called the county health department at that point?
Speaker 5: 13:37 Well, that's the, that she's living on base housing and she told that story much better than I did. Certainly was. She lived this shoot, we shot. You had to live through it. So, yeah, this is what, you know, what she found out when it comes to living in military housing, you have far fewer rights are living on base county health department isn't going to come there and inspect. And this is what we're finding around the country here. Reuters put out a whole series of stories at the end of the year, um, detailing complaints and military housing around the country find work hard to get into it as other work. You know, for other reporters who hadn't, you know, had those connections. But now that Congress is getting involved, more people are coming forward and they're starting to talk to us about what's happening.
Speaker 4: 14:17 The m o of the, of the military, do they, you know, they say, hey, that's Lincoln's a responsibility and her experience therefore deal with them or didn't, didn't she try in vain to get them to intervene and push Lincoln to move faster? I mean, who's, who was taking on the responsibility? I shirking it. Yeah,
Speaker 5: 14:35 there you go. So I feel like I need to go through some of the history here. Back in 1996, they start privatizing military house. And this was an idea that you could get more housing out there. The housing, military housing was pretty old, decrepit and they didn't have money in the Pentagon budget. So they decided these public partnerships might be the way to go. And it seems to have worked fairly well for a long time. But then we, we see some, uh, there's been a lowering the amount of, um, basic allowance for housing that the troops get some areas of the country. Um, you've seen a draw down in troops, not really in San Diego, so they're not having the occupancy rates. And so now you're seeing more and more of these problems. And I talked to the CNO, the of the, of the military, uh, Admiral John Richardson.
Speaker 5: 15:20 And he conceded that they, they, they didn't really understand these contracts are taking a look at them now to find out exactly what their rights, how much authority did they give to these private companies. And, and, and it's, uh, as we mentioned, Congress is also taking a look at and t starting to see if they can maybe get, uh, a bill of rights per tenant. So you can do simple things like if they don't complete a repair on it in a timely fashion, can a commander just simply take that allowance? Cause right now, for most of them, this comes right out of a sailor or marines paycheck. So they don't even see it. So not a lot of leverage and this, they're looking at different ways that might add a little more leverage at this point
Speaker 2: 15:56 in, as we mentioned, you referenced here, uh, there are many reports like this across the country here. They feed your bats and snakes and cockroaches and maggots and mole, electrical, lots of things
Speaker 5: 16:06 issue with mold and sub standard electric and, and, uh, cracks. Um,
Speaker 2: 16:11 it was more than a majority. They did this a massive, a survey, as you were saying, 46 states over 55% said, right, hey, this is problematic.
Speaker 5: 16:20 Right. And so right now how the military is responding. Yeah, they're taking a look at these contracts. Richardson also talked in terms of that maybe they just need some more people, uh, at base housing, the folks that are kind of the liaisons between tenants and the military themselves. Maybe that would work. Um, and he had set a deadline of next week, April 15th to go through and anyone who wanted their home inspected to have the commanders come through and do an inspection. They've also come up with, uh, this month they're doing a brand new survey of, of tenants in, in Navy housing and marine housing, just to see what the complaints are and to get a handle on them. Um, but this doesn't seem to be a problem that's going away. In fact, we're hearing from more and more.
Speaker 2: 17:03 No, you hear about this and of course we've heard about all sorts of problems with the Va. We talked about that on the show. And I'll at some point does it, does it affect decisions by service members to extend their military careers or even discourage young people from joining the military in the first place? We can't take care of veterans. We can't, you know, take care of the housing.
Speaker 5: 17:20 Where are they right now? They are actually, there's a bit of a, a recruitment crisis. The, the army has not made their numbers. They're trying to recruit people and they haven't made their numbers. The navy has some, uh, uh, sort of, uh, some smaller areas and areas like highlands where they're trying to get, so yes, it does. For a while there we were starting to draw down. They were, they were having all these retirement incentives. It's tried to get people to maybe considering leaving the military, but we're not in that cycle anymore. So yeah,
Speaker 4: 17:50 more of these stories. The more of these issues, the harder you make it for people to make a life in the military. The, uh, the harder it is to retain them.
Speaker 2: 17:58 Well, we'll follow up and see if Congress does anything on that one. We will move on now though, the blue curving span of the San Diego corn on a bridge not only offers dazzling, they used to drivers and passengers in both directions. Sadly, the bridge also attracts those who wish to end their lives in dramatic fashion. More than 400 people have plunged 200 feet to their deaths in the 50 years since the bridge opened in Caltrans recently added a feature to the corn on a bridge to discourage suicides and John Start there, what's been installed here recently and
Speaker 6: 18:28 they put in a what are commonly known as bird spikes in that kind of spikes that you would see put up on a ledge somewhere to keep pigeons from roosting. So there are about four inches tall and they run along the outside walls on both sides of the bridge.
Speaker 2: 18:40 And it doesn't, I mean as your story described, it's, it's, it's a temporary thing and nobody really thinks physically it's going to be.
Speaker 6: 18:46 Yeah, it is. It is a temporary thing and it really sort of falls into the category of more of a psychological deterrent. The idea being that somebody going up there who doesn't realize they're there, I may see them and it may make them stop and think about it. Suicide is very often an impulsive act. So anything that sort of makes them pull away can, uh, can be a favorable thing.
Speaker 2: 19:04 Any kind of pause and a book always difficult to know motives and what's going on. And when we're talking about suicide and it's this whole set topic. But uh, in the first 24 hours it didn't seem to work at all.
Speaker 6: 19:17 People go up there and commit suicide and there, and again, every case is is, is its own tragedy. So you really don't know what the factors were, but there's, there is a little bit of a faking that uh, some of the media coverage of the spikes going in may have, may have made people think more about going up there.
Speaker 2: 19:35 We don't really know. Yeah.
Speaker 4: 19:37 Laurie, so you said this was always intended to be a temporary measure. Did, did the, did they look at, I know you looked at what other cities with prejudice have done, but did they look at whether the birth bikes had been effective at all in other,
Speaker 6: 19:52 I don't know of any place where they've put them up. Those short only four inch that this is an issue. That idea actually came up during community discussions in corn auto about what to do. One of the residents of corn auto actually said, well, have you thought about doing something like this in his idea was actually a taller kind of bird, this'll kind of shape. And so caltrans just came up with this idea to try and do something on a temporary basis and while they pursue the longer term
Speaker 2: 20:18 and not costly, obviously it's just to see what happened.
Speaker 6: 20:22 Right. It depends. It depends on what you consider costly. Right. $420,000 against to Caltrans is not very much money, but that's, that's what they spend.
Speaker 2: 20:29 I mean, certainly a bridge this size. Well, let's talk about, uh, those hearings. What are some suggestions regarding permanent barriers? What might they cost? Where some of the obstacles, right? Yeah.
Speaker 6: 20:38 So there, there are sort of three main ideas that they're looking at. One is, one is, uh, uh, several variations of a wire mesh fence, usually about eight or nine feet tall. And those kind of are patterned after a fence. They put in on a bridge in Santa Barbara, the cold spring bridge where they'd had about 55 people commit suicide and they put that fence up and it's essentially stopped it. Um, they had one early on and they figured out something they needed to do on the sides to keep people from going around the beginning of the bridge of the fence barrier. Uh, so that's one idea. The other, uh, pattern after glass panels that they have on a bridge in Auckland, New Zealand, and that the third main area they're looking at is a nets underneath the bridge, which are patterned after what are being installed at the Golden Gate Bridge right now. Laurie,
Speaker 4: 21:25 so are, I mean, I know having read your story that, um, they're looking ahead at what this is going to cost, but where would the, would the, are they thinking that caltrans would be funding all this or is that,
Speaker 6: 21:37 yeah, well, that's the budget. That is one of the big, uh, big hurdles he'll face is how to fund it. I mean, some of the ideas go up to $110 million. So, um, it would be expensive. No, cal trans has a budget way in excess of that every year. So, um, I think the thinking right now what they're looking at us, they're planning another series of meetings with various stakeholders I think are going to happen sometime later this month and by the end of the year I think they hope to narrow it down to maybe a handful of ideas. I've its scope, those out of him co will go into the budgeting process and say, give us some money to start moving forward with this.
Speaker 2: 22:13 And your story notes that suicides have been a sad fact. Uh, uh, since I bridge opened in 1969 if I recall. Uh, why is there momentum now for a physical solution?
Speaker 6: 22:23 Well, I mean, or early on there was agitation in some groups, especially religious leaders were trying to get people to do something and it just got nowhere. In fact, the mayor of corn auto at the time said, we're going to do anything to this beautiful bridge. And so it never really got anywhere. But, but lately you've had some, actually some politicians in the area who were behind the idea. Uh, Ben Wayso actually came at it from the other side. He represents corn on it, but also the area with Chicano Park. You remember a couple of years ago, we had a truck go over the side into the park and kill four people. And so he actually was pushing for something to be done at that end. And actually they did put up what's known as a debris fence, if that site at that end to try and keep vehicles from going over it now coming down the grade, well, yeah, from going over the side of the bridge and uh, and in to the park, which is what happened with that pickup truck. And so, um, you have people who control the purse strings of Caltrans in Sacramento who are, who are interested in this idea. And so, uh, I think, uh, it's all made Caltrans to take the idea a little more serious. Like,
Speaker 5: 23:25 and I think it is, this is, uh, I did a story or series of stories on, um, uh, veterans suicide. And in the latest figures, 2017 San Diego took over from La as the number one, uh, more veterans in San Diego County killed themselves in any other county or, but they overtook La. And you start looking for some of the reasons, and I wouldn't even dismiss bird spikes. I mean from when I found out is like you, it's very difficult to tell when somebody's about to commit suicide. There are a lot of risk factors out there. Tbis being an older white male can be one. He's one of those risks, but it's hard to tell when somebody is going to kill themselves. And it is, it's that small moment. I found out that your dog can come up to you and start looking at your face. And nine veterans have killed themselves just by jumping off that bridge over the from 2013 to 2017. I mean, it's nothing compared to hand guns, more than half of veterans killed themselves with handguns. But it is an attractive Nunes. And even small things though it does surprise me that they haven't done much more up in the evening. Even something that might include putting some sort of pedestrian walkway that would be in close so he could do something productive as far as you know, opening up that, that area and just make it up just a little bit harder.
Speaker 2: 24:47 John, do we know why people are attracted to bridges?
Speaker 6: 24:50 Well, I mean there are people who've studied in one of the, one of the reasons why if they become an iconic, like the one here isn't certainly the golden gate bridge, which is the leading probably the leading suicide magnet in the world, certainly in this country. Um, so the, so, so structures that are notorious in that way and then the more that suicides happen there then were notorious they get, but bridges over water in particular have sort of this, uh, almost romantic idea. Uh, people go up there with the idea that jumping off a bridge is somehow going to be a peaceful, almost painless death and it isn't.
Speaker 2: 25:22 All right. Well, we're going to follow up on this and see what was done as we go forward. And other story to follow up on. Excellent story. Well before signing off today we want to mention the national suicide prevention lifeline. It's 1-800-273-TALK, t. A. L. K. It's a resource for anyone who may need someone to talk to and that does a wrap up. We're out of time here. Wraps up another week of stories on the KPBS round table, like to thank my guests, Laurie Weisberg or the San Diego Union Tribune, John Wilkins, also of the Union Tribune and Steve All chuffed k PBS news and a reminder, all the stories we discussed today available on our website, kpbs.org I'm mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today.